Written by El-Hajj Mauri’ Saalakhan
SATURDAY, 02 JANUARY 2010 01:08
In Response to Attacks on Sheikh Anwar Al-Awlaki
In last month’s edition of The Muslim Link, an article titled “Spokespersons Busy in Fort Hood Aftermath” (November 20, 2009) raised some serious concerns for this writer. The article quoted Imam Johari Abdul Malik, Imam Yahya Hendi and Asra Nomani in ways that required a response – both in the interest of balance and justice.The focus of the article centered around the controversies generated by Sheikh Anwar al-Awlaki’s response to the Fort Hood tragedy. In brief, Sheikh Awlaki praised the shootings and considered them justified because America was at war in Muslim lands and the victims were American soldiers on the verge of being deployed.
The purpose of this article is not to debate that argument, per se, but to examine the response to Awlaki’s argument from a number of well known figures in the Muslim American community. In the opinion of many, including this writer, these very public reactions went too far in condemnation of Awlaki, and served little to clarify Islam’s position on one of the major issues of the day (war and peace).
In preparing my own response, I was reminded of an essay that I wrote years ago titled “Five Mistakes of U.S. Policymakers in the Muslim World.” The article was published in the March 1999 edition of The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. (For those who possess a copy of my book titled Islam & Terrorism: Myth vs. Reality, it is also republished there beginning on page 11.)
Under Mistake #5 one finds the following cautionary note to America’s political establishment: “Our major organizations and mainstream leaders serve an important function and are appreciated for what they do. However, they are not always the people you should be listening to; for they will sometimes tell you what you want to hear, and not what you need to hear.”
We witnessed this tendency in the immediate aftermath of the Fort Hood tragedy, and again immediately following the controversy surrounding the five young Washington area Muslims now being interrogated in Pakistan (i.e. the Muslim establishment telling America’s political establishment what it wants to hear.)
My friend and brother in Islam, Johari Abdul Malik, was quoted as saying “something changed” in Sheikh Anwar al-Awlaki since his tenure ended as resident imam at Dar Al-Hijrah. Of course something changed! Awlaki, like the rest of us, witnessed a very costly American-instigated war in the Muslim world, and he himself was victimized by 18 months of political imprisonment (and probably torture) in the process.
When Awlaki argued that Nidal’s assault was justified because the victims were soldiers about to be deployed into the theater of battle, and “America was the one who first brought the battle to Muslim countries,” a more thoughtful response should have come from Muslim leaders in America, as opposed to the blanket denunciations that ensued.
Some of the comments of Yahya Hendi – who serves as resident imam at the Islamic Society of Frederick (MD), and chaplain at both the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda (MD) and Georgetown University in Washington, DC – were way over the top, in terms of Islamic credibility. He and others who echoed the same mantra missed a unique opportunity to correctly educate the public on a very sensitive, hot-button issue.
When asked, for example, if there was a conflict between being a Muslim and being deployed to fight other Muslims?
HENDI: You know, overall most of the soldiers we have, Muslim soldiers in the US military, are loyal Americans and have joined the military, again, to defeat terrorism, to defeat extremism. After all, on September 11 we were attacked, and Islam gives Muslims and America the right to defend itself against terrorism and, therefore, Muslims should be proud, and are proud, of their service in the US military.
Of no consequence to Imam Hendi, perhaps, is a verse in Al-Qur’an that reads: “Never should a believer kill a believer… If a man kill a believer intentionally his recompense is Hell, to abide therein forever; and the wrath and the curse of ALLAH are upon him, and a dreadful penalty is prepared for him.” (S. 4: 92-93)
There is a hadith of the Prophet (peace be upon him) which is also highly relevant to this issue. It reads as follows: “He who is killed under the banner of a man who is blind (to the cause for which he is fighting), who gets flared up with family pride and fights for his tribe – is not from my Ummah. And whosoever from my followers attacks my followers (indiscriminately), killing the righteous and the wicked among them, sparing not even those who are staunch in faith, and fulfilling not his promise made with those who have been given a pledge of security – he has nothing to do with me, and I have nothing to do with him.” (Sahih Muslim, Volume 3)
When journalist Bob Abernathy raised the following question with Hendi – “There’s a concept, if I understand it correctly, within Islam called the Ummah, which is a sense of intense brotherhood with all other Muslims. Now does that conflict with having to go into Afghanistan?” – Hendi’s response on this question was just as flawed and disingenuous.
HENDI: Actually, no. If I love my brother and when my brother does something wrong, Islam requires me to stop him from his wrongdoing. You know, Prophet Muhammad-and in the Koran we are told that we have to enjoin good and forbid evil. What happened on September 11 and the aftermath of that terrorism, extremism…what is happening in Pakistan, suicide bombing, and in Afghanistan, is against the teachings of Islam, and Muslims are required to join any military in self-defense and to defeat terrorism.
Asra Nomani was also quoted in The Muslim Link as follows:
“It’s critical that we ditch the concept of the “ummah” with a capital “U” and recognize that we are an “ummah” with a small “u,” meaning our religious identity doesn’t have to supersede other loyalties and identities. This attempt to push an “Ummah” is the politics of ideologues of puritanical Islam who want to mollify dissent. Sadly, too many moderates have bought into it.” (“Inside the Gunman’s Mosque”, The Daily Beast, 11/9/2009)
In response, I once again return to the 1999 essay (“Five Mistakes of U.S. Policymakers in the Muslim World”), to an observation made in the summary conclusion:
“Sincere Muslims in every corner of the globe are threaded together by an ideology which is consciously or unconsciously imbedded within the very fiber of their being. No matter how uneducated, unsophisticated, or illiterate the Muslim you happen to meet – and conversely, no matter how educated, sophisticated or westernized the Muslim you happen to meet – there is always this instinctual awareness of being part of a global family, a global community with an accountability to God. This is something that the U.S., and its respective allies, would do well to consider.
“No nation can indiscriminately bomb, maim and kill innocent Muslims without the pain, grief and anguish being felt on some level by Muslims the world over. No matter how many disclaimers are issued – ‘This is not to be taken as an attack on Islam or all Muslims’ (or as President Obama recently stated, “America is not at war with Islam”) – the ACTIONS are going to be seen for what they are, and the impact is going to be felt!”
This is the message that should be conveyed to the establishment by the Muslim community’s “spokespersons” in America. If it were, both we (the North American branch of the Muslim Ummah) and America would be in a much healthier state.
On a final note, I return to a highly counterproductive remark attributed to Imam Johari in the same edition of The Muslim Link:
“In other interviews, Abdul-Malik advocated that the Muslim community create a list of speakers parents should be wary of, adding Al-Awlaki to the list. Al-Awlaki’s Seerah (biography of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him) lectures are among the top sellers among English speaking Muslims worldwide.”
In a number of e-mails, blogs and online chats, I’ve noted a growing number of young Muslims now debating the value of Awlaki’s past and present intellectual output, and whether or not they should retain his products. Such debates remind me of just how littleIslamic understanding there is among Muslim American youth – despite all of the Seerah conferences, “deen intensives,” etc. And this does not reflect well on “Muslim scholars” in America.
Johari’s suggestion has other ominous implications, however. This writer knows how it feels to be shut out of certain places because of the perception that he’s too militant, toocontroversial, or too “political” – and how counterproductive this is to Muslim-American development and self-defense.
A number of Muslim organizations are talking about producing a website and other mechanisms by which Muslim youth will be able to access scholars who might mitigateradical tendencies. Who will these “scholars” be? The same ones who say it’s alright for Muslims to join the military and go overseas to fight and kill fellow Muslims? Or the “scholars” who argue that the only politics suitable for the masajid are flag waving enterprises approved of by the state? If so, such initiatives are doomed before they even begin! Our youth must be able to respect the advocates of “moderation.”
May God help us.
El-Hajj Mauri’ Saalakhan serves as Director of Operations for The Peace And Justice Foundation. He can be reached at (301) 762-9162 or firstname.lastname@example.org .